Saul Bellow’s Politics

May 25, 2017 | Martin Rubin
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Reviewing a recently published collection of essays titled A Political Companion to Saul Bellow, Martin Rubin examines the great writer’s politics:

Bellow, who was born in 1915 and died just short of his 90th birthday in 2005, followed a political trajectory typical of intellectuals—and particularly Jewish ones—of his generation. Starting out as a Trotskyite in the 1930s, he went through predictable adherence to New Deal liberal values and their afterglow, before ending up as a neoconservative in all but name. And in that last clause, “aye, there’s the rub.”

Unlike Edward Shils, his friend and colleague at the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, Bellow was shy about identifying himself overtly with the political right. In this he was more like his other friend and colleague Allan Bloom. . . . While Bloom was too genuinely subtle in his politics and general thinking to embrace wholeheartedly any single label, Bellow’s similar skittishness additionally owed quite a bit to his ambition. To put it crudely, he knew that the prevailing intellectual establishment in this country and much of the rest of the West was too doggedly liberal to shower honors on someone who swam against the tide. . . .

Yet where it counted, he wore his political as well as his private heart on his sleeve. To his credit as a consummate artist, his fiction is generally unvarnished in its expression of his true political stance. As far back as his magnum opus, Herzog, 40 years before his death, you see his respect for normative values and the bourgeoisie revealing itself between the cracks. A dozen years later in Mr. Sammler’s Planet you see him unmistakably as neoconservative before [the movement’s] heyday. . . .

Adam Bellow, [the novelist’s second son], . . . stressed certain enduring lodestars in his father’s life, like his commitment to Israel and the influence of the conservative thinker Leo Strauss, with whom “he shared a certain sense of detachment from American society, but also a great sense of gratitude and appreciation for it.”

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